My 2 1/2-year-old is in a wonderful daycare that we LOVE, (this is a photo from last year at “Moms & Muffins” day). But it took us a while to get there. We are on our third daycare. Charlotte has lots of wonderful daycare centers but it is VERY hard to get into them! Where Charlotte really lacks is volume of good daycare centers in the center of Charlotte (basically between 51 and downtown). For this reason, the waiting lists are long and even if you get on the list 5 minutes after you conceive, you still may have a very hard time. If you live outside of this middle-of-Charlotte area (like Ballantyne, University etc), you will probably have better luck because it seems there are just more options. I wanted to pass along the best resource I have found for getting the full list of daycare options. (When I say “daycare”, I mean a traditional daycare where you drop your child off. There are plenty of other options like nannies and babysitters but this post will only cover daycare.)
The best resource I have found is the NC Division of Child Development. They have a great search feature where you can enter the zip code you want to search and the level (4 star, 5 star etc.). You will want to search all the zip codes between your home and your work. If you are like me, you do not know all the zip codes you pass along your commute so click here for a map of Charlotte zip codes.
You will want to fill in the zip code, the “Type of facility” (select “Child Care Center”), then the Permit Type. The permit types you want to focus on are at the top… such as Five Star Center Licence and Four Star Center License. Many people wonder how important the rankings are. They are VERY important. In my opinion, you should try not to go below 4 stars. The stars indicate their Staff Education and Program Standards – including the teacher/child ratio. This system differs from state to state. Here is a link to more detailed information on the NC star ranking system. One more tip for the site: the term “ASEP” means After School Enrichment Program.
Interestingly, some of the best daycares are churches. I have heard that this is because of the fact the daycare shares facilities with the church (school during week, church on Sunday and evenings), so there is less overhead. For instance, Claire’s daycare had a HUGE gym they use when it’s raining outside. Few private daycares could afford this or have space for it. That said, there are many great private daycares. Running a daycare is just really expensive.
You should expect to pay as much as $30 per daycare waiting list. They charge these fees to try to weed out the people who are just trying to “get on all the lists”.
How much should you expect to pay for daycare? You are probably talking $9,000 to $11,000 per year.
Should your daycare be near home or near work? That’s a tough one. When they are a baby it is nice to have them near work so you can pop over and visit your little sweetie at lunch, I know people who even would go and breastfeed (I pumped and sent the bottles but visited often). On the con side, it’s more time they have to spend in the car (hard when they are a baby but nice later on when you can chat about their day). If your daycare is near home it’s less car-time but you might be stressed about making it to daycare before closing time.
We started out at the YWCA Downtown Day Care Center. We went there because it was our “safety daycare”, and thank goodness because it’s the only place we got in before I went back to work. We liked it a lot – it was 4 star. But they closed (with only 2 months notice) when Claire was 11 months old. I went into complete panic mode – I mean she was 11 months and I STILL had not gotten into some daycares that I has been on waiting lists since I was 2 months PREGNANT! Plus, we were now competing with all the other displaced familes for spaces at all the same daycares. So we got on the list again of our #1 choice (a 5 star center) and enrolled Claire in a 3-star center as a temporary solution until we got into our #1 choice. They were very nice at the 3-star and we loved some of the teachers but all in all it just want not what we were looking for long-term, especially with the ratios for the 2 -3-4-year-olds. When you are away from your child for the 8+ hours you are working, you need really 100% confidence that you child is in the right place. So after 3 months we got into the place we wanted and I honestly felt like I had won the lottery. We feel so happy to have her in such a great facility and it really feels like home.
Do you have daycare tips? Share them by adding a comment below.